The man in front of the podium reached out and plucked the storage brick from the air.
Another chapter in another life. The creation called Malumortis, or Caladhbolg, made waves of considerable size – no matter in what form it strode the pages of history.
The vessel who gave it function and direction, the man Artaxerxes, had a most curious tale to tell. As always, the man whose library was a source of endless discovery wondered about this and that and the other.
An apeirotope of knowledge. Everything – or almost everything – at hand which one might conceivably know, in any system, any grammar, any formulation, any semiosis. All things in good time, all things digested.
Did unlimited knowledge with the restriction of being shared with virtually nobody constitute a responsibility? Was it a penance? Could he think of it as a challenge?
He’d been… well, not alive, but in existence for a long time, and gotten no further on that ponderance. He didn’t think he’d ever find its ultimate conclusion.
One issue in which he did have answers, though, was Sebastio Artaxerxes.
The man who was a Being of Old turned from the podium and the storage brick and beckoned. From the depths of his library, more books shuddered, rushing toward their caretaker in blobs and waves. Several minutes later, a sea of literature came up to his waist.
Upon every such volume was the invisible stamp of its membership in his library, but that was not the most salient similarity. No, that had to be the fact that every one of the thousands of tomes vying for his attention contained tales of a curious Lord of Yrdky and his history.
He had a sneaking suspicion he’d be reading more of Sebastio as time went by.
Doubting Thomas, they called him, thinking him so cynical and jaded he couldn’t bear to exist outside his library. Well, not entirely wrong, perhaps. Very far from right.
And speaking of Thomas and his talents and one interesting young Cambrian human…
“Why, hello, my friend,” said the Maker, practically flouncing toward him from around a shelf with glee. That artificial feline companion of his trotted along at his heels. A cat in appearance, a dog in temperament, a not-precisely-engineered-deity in nature. Both slowly clambered onto the raft of scripture, walking across a little papery pond to within what any adolescent human would call spitting distance.
As soon as the little thing’s master stopped walking, Clive began smoothly striding up one of his legs, his abdomen, his back, and settled itself on the other Old’s shoulder. No use of claws or teeth was in evidence.
“I want to thank you again, for the assistance in getting to young Mr. Artaxerxes in time to give him warning.”
The Maker sounded… humble.
If Thomas had ever harbored an inclination to wagering, that tone of voice probably would have spelled numismatic disaster.
“Indeed?” he asked, sparing the more elevated man a glance.
“Absolutely. Can’t be utterly certain, but I’m pretty sure Dice, or maybe that cretin Poacher, is going to be lying in wait for him in the Purple for quite a while to come. I’ll be honest: disregarding the obvious reasons for keeping him out of their clutches, the thought of the Despised gathering dust in vain like that tickles me far beyond pink.”
That mask-white face split to show a mask-white smile.
“So, on to tendering payment. What would you like in return?”
Thomas gave it careful consideration. He sniffed, taking a quick three-step around in a circle, looking over the Library’s unending files and ranks.
“I… would like you to develop a heuristic to get a particular sorting applied to an arbitrary set within constant time. Specifically, an arbitrary set that complies with fuzzy logic determinations of whether the set’s members are in a second, dynamic set.”
The Maker’s eyes glinted for a second, after widening for a second, which followed a second of hard-indrawn breath.
“Oh, oh, oh.”
He looked upward, the cat mewing with a slightly-too-low register, and watched the flux and order of texts as they migrated in and out and around through the Library’s higher layers.
“Oooooh, you have hit on a good one,” he half-chuckled a moment later, turning aside from Thomas, step-step-stepping across the pages and pages of earthworks. “Constant time.”
He stopped, corrugating brow aimed at the Library’s keeper, and hopped a couple of times to bring himself to face Thomas again.
“What type of sorting?” he asked. “There’ll be problems if it’s the kind that needs more than two networked oracles, assuming the end product is supposed to be isomorphic to…”
He stopped as he watched Thomas’s expression, and smiled. It wasn’t an apologetic smile in the least.
“Ah. I won’t concern you with that depth of detail. I assume the sorting in question should take place over an arbitrary number and classification of dimensions?”
Thomas gave his assent.
“A challenge, that will be! Constant time. CONSTANT time.”
The Maker looked like he wanted to ask another huge favor of Thomas just so he could get another, equally rigorous task out of the bargain. He refrained from any unseemly glee beyond muttering under his breath with a moderately broad smile, though, so the Librarian decided he would keep for the time being.
“I can’t give you a firm delivery for completion,” the Maker said a moment later, trotting carefully backward down the pale multimedia wave, scratching the cat’s head as he did so. “Even so, it’s a bargain, and no lie. If you do want a bit more into the deal for your contributions, though…”
Thomas mentally tallied up a “still owes slight excess for teleoneiric favors” on his records of debts, and waved it off.
“Nothing for the moment,” he said.
“Okay,” said the Maker. His mouth crinkled. “What I wouldn’t give to take a stab at that challenge with the Device.”
He took another half-step before adopting an uncomfortable expression. “Oh, and by the by – you’ve got some… ill company.”
“Ill company? I assure you that no spiny monstrosity is visiting at this time. If it were, I would’ve known, and ejected it.”
“Not that Crooked Canker, or even our dear West, but ill enough company if you’re not a welcoming type,” the Maker responded. “The sort that tends to have a very definite image of what is and is not proper, and goes about fixing the latter with a passion… and who you won’t notice unless they feel like letting you.”
Those three. Not friendly, or relatable – even as much as, say, the Oiler was relatable – but completely devoid of artifice, and reliable in their tendencies to keep things brief.
“… I appreciate it,” the Librarian muttered, reaching out to order a very specific set of seventy four books.
The Maker snorted, and tapped the side of his head.
“Don’t thank me. They asked me to announce them, literally the instant that I spoke up just now.”
“Ah,” said Thomas, very differently this time. “Why, precisely, would they want announcing? Why ask you to do it?”
“Thomas. Do you THINK the Archaea tell me anything?”
The Maker gave an obsidian chuckle.
“Don’t worry, they didn’t tell me that you needed to prepare yourself for destruction.”
And then he stepped out without another word.
Thomas sighed, and then sighed more deeply before cracking a glance at the “company” he’d accrued.
All three entities stood with bodies of homogeneous identical colors, appearing either black or white. It was impossible to discern which, if any, applied on a moment-to-moment basis. Each bore a helmet or mask or visor or somesuch, vaguely done in the likeness of their respective Earth Standard namesakes’ features. Their appearances, though, hardly mattered. The Archaea didn’t simply visit. No, they only sparingly doled out their presence. Why they were so stingy with their manifestations was anyone’s guess. It wasn’t like they didn’t have enough time.
Thomas the Librarian turned and considered the Asynchronous Swan, the Mantis, and the Oracular Fox, all standing around as though they were shopping patiently in a market, and awaited his attention so they might buy some bread. Three creatures who had been neither born nor made; at least, not in the sense that many understood the essentials of creation. They weren’t Beings of Old – they were something older even than most of those. They didn’t come out of their seclusion particularly often, and when they did it was a notable occurrence without exception.
“You plan to document the successes and failures and stories of the holder of Caladhbolg,” said the Swan.
“You plan to array the full breadth of his years in their totality,” said the Mantis.
“You plan to concatenate these in the name of enriching your other records,” said the Fox.
All three voices were stamped from the same negative. Perhaps they shared other characteristics on a very intimate basis – very few might know, and Thomas hadn’t yet found the curiosity unbearable enough to pursue.
“I do,” said the Librarian, though he knew not why. They weren’t asking questions. They certainly weren’t the kinds of beings who required rhetoric acknowledgements.
The imperative came from all three. It did something to the Being of Old which had happened to him at most a score of times since his return to not-quite-life: it frightened him.
“Could you give me further detail?” he requested, glancing from one hidden face to the next. “Some small peek at your top-down perspective?”
“If you persist in this wanton description, then things fall apart.”
The Mantis sounded quite sad.
“The act of recording shall influence other records,” stated the Fox.
“However, refrain from documentation of this indicated day, and this grief shall pass by the world’s threshold.”
As the Swan spoke, an arm lifted. From the seething masses of text, a single page from a single book rose, and flashed with the color of a starless night. It hovered toward Thomas, and slipped firmly into one outstretched hand. For a single breath, a shorthand representation of a date flickered across its surface.
“I see,” said Thomas, frowning with contemplation. “Or rather, I don’t.”
His palm played over the records, tapping here and there. To his hand came the Master Stylus, annotating the document. He found the implied beginning of the specified date. He found its implied end. As befit the instructions, no mention of the actual occurrences within that date’s bounds happened to appear. It was but one span of sixteen extrafacetary hours, start to finish. Many more came before its advent; it was followed by legions of its kind.
But the progressions of events that it separated were… phenomenal.
“Oh, but you three must insist on throwing the very most interesting parts of life out of bounds,” the Old muttered. He looked up at where the Fox practically stepped on his arm, quirking his lips. The vulpine mask of the entity gave him no tell by which to gauge the Fox’s composure. However, considering that the Archaea seemed to possess no composure in any case, that hardly disturbed him.
“I’ll agree to your terms,” said the man. “I’d ask for assurances that your designs will bring benefit about.”
Thomas gave a sigh.
“Of course, when talking to proponents such as yourselves, I don’t think that’s genuine cause for worry.”
The Being of Old tossed the document into the air, then lashed out with the Master Stylus as though it were a saber. A score of lines split its hale skin, leaving the words that he’d delimited legible and utterly dead. It fluttered back to his hand, as he scanned the sheet with moderate annoyance.
Thomas looked up.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“No,” replied all three in unison.
And then the three questionably-people people left his Library without one more word.
Well, thought Thomas, scowling at the now-empty air. On the one hand, he felt short-changed. On the other hand, nobody had unambiguously declared that he’d never existed and would indeed fail to ever exist in any future, and subsequently sewn up reality around the gaping vein of his absence.
What measure blessing? Well, maybe that. That, and books.
Thomas continued taking notes. Sebastio Artaxerxes never fled his mind, since nothing ever truly did, but the Lord moved to a place of tertiary importance. There was a storage brick filled with references to other storage bricks, referencing yet more storage bricks, that Thomas needed to get around to re-cataloguing.
The Old didn’t hum, but his face twitched with milquetoast pleasure as he plucked a swath of paper from the air on its way to his hand. Infinite writing, unlimited work to do. Best be about it.